Mark Kidd

Mark Kidd

Ada Smith

Ada Smith

January marked the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, President Johnson’s initiative that charged America’s institutions to create “maximum feasible participation” for those most affected by lack of opportunity. This focused effort made a lasting difference on living standards in Appalachia – but poverty, high unemployment, and shortened lifespans outlasted the war. During the last 18 months, Eastern Kentucky lost 6,000 coal mining jobs, often the highest paying career available in our region, leaving coal employment at its lowest levels since record keeping began in the 1920s.

Eastern Kentucky has 20 counties which are federally-designated as distressed, more than twice the number of any other state in Appalachia. Distressed counties have a three-year average unemployment rate, per capita market income, and poverty rate that fall within the bottom ten percent of the nation. On a recent winter weekday in Pikeville, Kentucky, almost 1,700 people traveled from mountain counties throughout Eastern Kentucky to participate in a day-long summit named “SOAR” — Shaping Our Appalachian Region. State and federal political leaders solicited ideas for a new regional planning process, which produced 600 written ideas about how to make positive change. We could not ask for a more encouraging sign that the local will exists to sustain our communities regardless of persistent, grinding economic distress.

Our region’s arts and culture sector is poised to make contributions to the civic, social, and economic transitions that are necessary for the future. Local partnerships that incorporate artists, arts organizations, social services, civic organizations, and the public have proven themselves a potent way to help a broad cross-section of community members take on complex projects here, including economic development. With this kind of infrastructure in place, communities can identify local issues and develop creative, ongoing solutions. Read the rest of this entry »

Michele Anderson

Michele Anderson

Embodied energy. For anyone working to save a historic building from the wrecking ball in their town, this preservation term has likely come up in the fight— it powerfully illustrates the fact that buildings are literal repositories of the energy, labor and materials that they took to be constructed.

I love this image of energy just bubbling under the surface of our old buildings. It also makes me think about the stories, relationships and imagination that our historic buildings hold within their walls. For a long time I have wondered: How might creative placemaking be a strategy in activating a building’s embodied cultural energy – even before a permanent solution is found for its reuse? And how might many small creative gestures lead us to authentic and compelling reuse of the building, and attract responsible stewards of both the building’s cultural and physical embodied energy?

In Fergus Falls, our former state mental hospital, or the Kirkbride Building, has been front and center as a key community and economic development issue since 2005. Last July, the narrative of this complex problem began to shift closer to a renaissance, as a new developer and the city finally began the complicated process of working out a purchase agreement and redevelopment plan.

There is still a lot of work to be done and I admire the individuals behind the scenes who are working out the complicated web of tax credits and other things I don’t fully understand. As the rest of us wait to see if the building will finally have a new life, small acts of creative placemaking through our community’s Imagine Fergus Falls project have been helping the community step back ever so slightly from the preservation fight, and focus more on temporary animation of the space and artist-led storytelling about the building.

Our first official activity of Imagine Fergus Falls, a project funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts Our Town program, was a community picnic this fall in front of the hospital’s administrative tower. The picnic featured our community jazz band, The Lakes Area All-Stars, who played from the same sheet music that was used by the hospital’s resident band, The Happy Ramblers. Our community college choir also performed. A local photographer created a lovely (and hilarious) photo booth with costumes for friends and family to pose in, and another visual artist facilitated a community history collage with photos both of the buildings history and the preservation efforts in more recent years. We even had a camera obscura booth set up in front of the tower, made from a portable ice fishing house.

This event was a hit, and a way to demonstrate to the community what we had in mind with using the arts to foster interaction about the building. But this winter, the magic has really taken hold as we have been forced to take our creative placemaking efforts indoors, and unable to do activities at the Kirkbride Building itself because, well, we would freeze there. The average temperature here in west central Minnesota has not risen above zero for several months, which makes creative placemaking in an abandoned building near impossible.

As it turns out, indoor creative placemaking, slightly removed from the place that you are focusing on, is something really special too. Read the rest of this entry »

Shannon Ford

Shannon Ford

“I’m not aware of too many things
I know what I know, if you know what I mean”

With this refrain, Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians began the song “What I Am,” an anthem for simplicity, honesty, and common sense that has helped me in both my personal and professional life since I was a teen.  (And yes, I know I am dating myself, and I am happy to own my middle age.)

As a staff member of the Tennessee Arts Commission, I’ve assisted people from rural places with packaging their hopes, dreams, and aspirations into proposals that anticipate skeptical questions and outline the community benefits to be achieved. It’s my job as a grants administrator and steward of public dollars to think how to economize and get the largest return from small investments, since our grants often represent a fraction of the funds raised for any given constituent’s project or operational budget. What makes my job rewarding is that I work for a state full of incredibly talented artists and administrators who continually innovate and show me how to squeeze grant dollars for every ounce of public value possible.

My job has also afforded me the privilege of speaking to teachers, public officials, and community boosters who believe that the arts are good for students, seniors, downtowns, tourism, as well as plenty of other groups and initiatives. However, sometimes they don’t know what to say or do to persuade movers, shakers, and/or non-believers. In particular, they express frustration that the arts are kept on the fringes of discussions about moving their communities strategically forward, or that the arts are perceived as expendable amenities, rather than as essential forces of positive change.

I’m not aware of too many magic bullets for incorporating the arts into rural economic development, but I know to look for six characteristics from constituents who’ve been successful.

1)      Clarity of Goals – A plan is not a plan without an end in mind. If you want to do something, then be clear about the intended effects it will have on your community. A vehicle for reaching your community goals could be opening an arts center, or organizing a festival, or starting a gallery crawl, but those activities won’t have short-term or long-term effects without an expressed purpose. So your goals need to be clear, logically related to the means for achieving them, and attainable. Be very aware that if you are pitching your project or program as a component of economic development, then one of your long-term goals must be to generate revenue. Whatever form it takes – income for local artists, new business for the hospitality industry, a bump in the county tax rolls – it is important to show how economic benefits will accrue to the community at large. Read the rest of this entry »

Michael Lange

Michael Lange

Planning for the Arts in Rural Wyoming Communities

Due to Wyoming’s population and rural nature, the arts and cultural entities have the ability to be considered in key community development strategies in Wyoming. Below are two of the ways that the Wyoming Arts Council (WAC) has been focusing on development of the arts in rural communities.

Wyoming is one of the largest states geographically, but has the smallest population of any state with only 575,000 people. Wyoming is better categorized as frontier or even remote. The largest populated city in Wyoming is the state capital Cheyenne, with a population just over 61,000 people. Of the 99 incorporated municipalities, only about half have populations more than 1,000 people, and only a handful of those have a population more than 10,000 people.

Getting the Arts in Community Plans

The Wyoming Rural Development Council (WRDC), part of the Wyoming Business Council, has developed a comprehensive assessment program to help communities develop locally conceived and locally driven development strategies, and provide a long term support system to help achieve development goals. Of the 99 incorporated communities, the WRDC has facilitated community assessments in almost 80 Wyoming communities, as well as revisited communities at five and 10 year increments. Read the rest of this entry »

savannah

Savannah Barrett

There are many ways that the arts contribute to a more diversified economy. As the funding consortium ArtPlace America demonstrates, creative placemaking has become an investment priority for many funders. With 32% of arts event attendees travelling from another county, cultural tourism is increasingly popular as an earned income generator for small towns across America. Arts organizations and the events that they host generate a significant boost to the economy, estimated at $135.2 billion annually by the Arts and Economic Prosperity IV study. The question is no longer IF the arts contribute to a thriving economy, but HOW to best employ arts and cultural amenities to promote economic stability and social uplift in disparate communities.

Many strategies have worked well in communities large and small across the nation, and many of those position the arts at the strategy’s core. Still, there is no silver bullet to address the comprehensive needs of a whole community, as a different approach is necessarily used in each success. While we should study, reflect, and aspire to the opportunities for investment that each type of arts and economic opportunity provides, we as artists and organizers must envision a plan with our communities that amplify the resonance of our own cultural assets. That reverberation attracts others, and that collective energy can resound across the spectrum of a place to impact the social, domestic, and economic health of your community.

Engage Your Whole Community
Opportunities to engage with diverse perspectives and cultural experiences aren’t urban amenities, but quality of life amenities. When a region (rural or urban) envisions a future through art and demonstrates consistent offerings of varied activities that people can not only observe but participate in, those people (both tourists and locals) have the kinds of remarkable experiences that inspire devotion to a destination. The buzz that the arts and culture prompt in a community draws people into social space, which attracts business. Those kinds of thriving markets accomplish a dual task: they engage with their cultural richness by coming together as a whole community, which attracts new markets overtime and continues to honor their cultural heritage in a genuine, sustainable way. Read the rest of this entry »

Arnold Aprill

Arnold Aprill

ArtEdArt education in schools exists, to the extent that it exists at all, within the contexts of wider school cultures. School cultures are currently in the thrall of high stakes—undifferentiated, system-wide models of measurement and accountability. How does art education function in such an environment? Not so well.

Because models for assessing arts learning are underdeveloped, the arts come to represent for many students a safe haven from relentless testing. At the same time, the arts are broadly discounted by policy makers as not being serious enough disciplines worthy of time, attention, or funding, because they are untested.

How might we find our way through the labyrinth of this double-bind? One approach is to look at the metaphors that undergird approaches to assessment at the policy level.

Bush Era “No Child Left Behind”: Known colloquially as “NCLB”, and sometimes as “Nickleby” (I’m thinking of the cruel Uncle Ralph Nickleby, not the sweet and brave hero in Dickens’ novel Nicholas Nickleby). NCLB in a nutshell is schools and individual teachers that do not demonstrate Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) on standardized test scores risk losing their funding or their jobs. The problem that I have always had with NCLB is implicit in the name itself. The policy is not named something like EPIC (Enhancing the Powers in Children). The policy is named “No Child Left Behind” – conjuring up an image of abandoned loser children and of winner children schlepped along to the potatoesgoalposts of achievement. This is not a metaphor representing child agency, child capacity, child initiative, or child power. Learning in this model is not something that children do, but rather is something done to them. The core metaphor here is a “potato race”–a game in which competitors (teachers) carry inert potatoes (lumpy and lumpen children) precariously balanced on spoons as they rush back and forth across a finish line, dropping some potatoes and depositing others in a heap to win.

climbing

Obama Era “Race to the Top”, or R2T: A contest between states and local districts for big bucks, with points given for evidence of such things as intervening in low achieving schools, demonstrating significant progress in raising achievement and in closing gaps, developing charter schools, privatization of public services, and computerization. The metaphor for R2T is as the name says, a race, but while NCLB was a horizontal race, Race to the Top is a vertical race; a climbing wall. Again, we have a metaphor built around winners and losers, but this time among states and districts rather than schools and teachers. A level up in the policy food supply chain and a quantum leap away from children, parents, and teachers.

RhizomeRhizomes: There is another metaphor, developed by Félix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze, which is emerging as a useful tool for rethinking social systems like school districts. This is the “rhizome” – networks of biological roots that expand out, grow up, and draw sustenance from and in many directions. This metaphor opposes linear, dualist thinking (dubbed “arborescent” by Guattari and Deleuze based on the image of a tree with a siloed root system and one trunk.) Read the rest of this entry »

Janet Brown

Janet Brown

I’ve been a community arts developer for over 26 years. Most of that time was spent working in rural communities in South Dakota and the Great Plains. Moving back to South Dakota after a stint in New York City and San Francisco, I became increasingly aware of how people passionate about the arts impact rural and small communities making certain that art is a part of the lives of their children and their neighbors. Community arts councils, community theatres, visual art galleries, community choruses and bands…all defined the word “community” for me.

In South Dakota, many amazing professional artists draw inspiration from the rural countryside where they were raised. Others have escaped from the city and now feel at home on the prairie. There was no mistaking that these artists live and work in rural settings because it inspires their art. These professional artists, as well as the community artists who would not think of themselves as professionals, became my inspiration. This is where I learned that the arts do not need to be taught, that they are instinctive. Formalized learning can expand and inform art making, but the practice of music, dance, theatre, literature and visual art comes from the soul, from everyone’s soul. I’m still not sure what the terms “placemaking” and “rural arts” mean but I know what it means to be inspired by your home, your neighbors, your land and its people—and to express that inspiration through the arts that envelops an entire community. I know the sorrow of losing an elementary school and the pride of turning that school into a local center for the arts. I know the joy of combined church choirs singing Handel in December and of music and arts festivals in the parks in the summer.

We had our state centennial while I was director of South Dakotans for the Arts. For that event, I was honored to be part of an amazing team of artists and arts administrators who helped to write the following Declaration of Dakota Cultural Identity. (We wrote it with North Dakotans since we have the same state birthday.) I love this language but mostly I love the memories of people and places that come back to me, of ordinary people singing, dancing and celebrating through the arts in the place they call home. Read the rest of this entry »

Michael Lange

Michael Lange

Using cultural districts as a structure for arts and cultural activities is a central catalyst for revitalization efforts that build better communities. Many states and urban areas have setup structures, often through legislation, that promote cultural districts as a way to build vibrant communities that lead to social and economic development.

Getting to the end outcome – the arts playing a leading role in revitalization efforts – is a necessary endeavor, but setting up structures in the same way as urban areas may not be the best approach for a rural state like Wyoming.

Laramie Mural picture 3

Laramie, WY Mural

Wyoming is one of the largest states geographically, but has the smallest population of any state with 575,000 people. Wyoming is better categorized as frontier or even remote. The largest populated city in Wyoming is the state capital Cheyenne, with a population just over 61,000 people. Of the 99 incorporated municipalities, only about half have populations over 1,000 people, and only a handful of those have a population over 10,000.

How can small populated states invest in the outcomes of cultural districts?

In Wyoming, the Wyoming Arts Council has joined in a strategic partnership with Wyoming Main Street which manages the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street program. Located inside the Wyoming Business Council, the Wyoming Main Street program assists Wyoming communities of various sizes and resource levels with their downtown revitalization efforts. Between fully certified and affiliate communities, Wyoming has fifteen active communities in their Main Street Program. Read the rest of this entry »

Theresa Cameron

Theresa Cameron

Welcome to our first ever rural arts blog salon. We have gathered together some of the best thinkers, practitioners, and artists to blog about art, placemaking, and economic development in rural communities. This blog salon will be in conjunction with our new rural webinars on these topics which will occur Feb. 26,27, and 28!

This blog salon will explore ways that small and rural communities are using the arts to help economic stability and growth in their communities. It will give you the opportunity to hear from these communities about some of the successful economic development strategies they have used like artists relocation, cultural districts, historic tax credits, etc.

Do you find yourself looking for resources for your organization? Where do you look? Placemaking is one way that rural communities are using the arts to animate spaces, create more economic opportunities, and bring diverse people together. Learn about ways communities are using placemaking tools and resources for their community. If you’re looking for resources for your organization or community, this blog salon and our upcoming webinar series are great places to start.

Check back every day this week for some new thoughts and information from our bloggers. You will see that a lot is happening in rural America through the arts.

Robert L. Lynch

Robert L. Lynch

I am pleased that President Obama has put forward a strong nominee for Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts. Dr. Jane Chu brings the valuable perspectives of multi arts understanding, top management skills, and deep philanthropic knowledge to the position. She is trained as an artist but has also worked successfully as manager of complex business enterprises. This is a valuable mix, important to our nation’s key public sector arts position. She has spoken publicly about the importance of bringing the broadest array of America’s arts riches to the broadest spectrum of the American people and has done so in her work in Kansas City. She understands the value of art at the community level and how the arts are transformative to individuals as well as places. Americans for the Arts is pleased to see the critical leadership position at the NEA being filled. We applaud The President’s choice of Dr Jane Chu.

Read more about Dr. Jane Chu from the White House press release in our newsroom.

Robert L. Lynch and Arts Advocate/Actor Robert Redford at our National Arts Policy Roundtable. Oct. 2012

Robert L. Lynch and Arts Advocate/Actor Robert Redford at our National Arts Policy Roundtable. Oct. 2012

This Letter to the Editor was co-authored by Robert L. Lynch and Robert Redford and originally published in the New York Times on February 11, 2014. The New York Times version incorrectly mentions the city of Los Angeles. This version correctly states the city as San Diego.

To the Editor:

Re “N.E.A. Funds Benefit Both Rich and Poor, Study Finds” (Arts pages, Feb. 5):

A few years ago, a homeless girl in Los Angeles walked into a community arts center. Her name is Inocente. An Oscar-winning documentary by the same name told the story of how the arts turned her life around. Her success story illustrates the benefit of the arts to thousands of poor children and lower-income people all across our country.

The assertion by the House Budget Committee that the arts are the domain of the wealthy has proved to be a myth. A Southern Methodist University study reaffirms what nearly 100,000 nonprofit arts organizations already know. Public funding allows access to the arts for millions of Americans who otherwise couldn’t afford the benefit of the arts in their lives.

Arts are a path to opportunity. Businesses benefit from the creativity, perseverance and problem-solving skills that Americans develop through the arts. The arts drive private-sector investment and job creation. Every dollar of N.E.A. funding generates $9 of non-federal money to the arts, and the nonprofit arts industry generates 4.1 million jobs.

This new study can help educate our elected leaders from both sides of the aisle about the true value of the arts for all our children, our communities and our country.

Read this Letter to the Editor in The New York Times.

Robert L. Lynch

Robert L. Lynch

Joan Mondale accepting the Public Art Network Annual Award from Americans for the Arts, 2008

Joan Mondale accepting the Public Art Network Annual Award from Americans for the Arts, 2008

I know the nation’s arts community joins me in mourning the loss of one of our country’s staunchest arts advocates, Joan Mondale.  As the wife of Walter Mondale, vice president to President Jimmy Carter, she used her public position to place a bright spotlight on the vital role that artists and arts organizations play in strengthening American communities.

Mrs. Mondale intersected with Americans for the Arts on a number of notable occasions, beginning with her service on our board in the mid-1970’s, when we were known by one of our predecessor names, the American Council for the Arts.  In 1977, she was the guest speaker at the tenth annual meeting of the Business Committee for the Arts (now a division of Americans for the Arts).

I first met her at the Americans for the Arts annual convention in 1987 in Portland, Oregon, where she was a fervent keynote speaker and great motivational figure for hundreds of local arts agency leaders.  I later had the privilege of serving with her on the national advisory board of the Craft Emergency Relief Fund (CERF), where we shared a passion for fine craft—she as a potter and me as a woodcarver.  And in 2008, Americans for the Arts was pleased to honor her with the Public Art Network Award, in recognition of her lifelong nurturing of art in public places.

She was a long-time museum guide who, while her husband was in office, ensured that the home of the vice president, and later, the ambassador to Japan’s residence, were infused with art.  A frequent board member for arts organizations and an avid speaker for their gatherings, Mrs. Mondale was particularly effective in her most visible role as honorary chair of the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities during the Carter Administration.

On behalf of those of us who work in the arts who had the pleasure of knowing her and admiring the important work she did in promoting the public value of the arts, we salute “Joan of Art.”  Her voice will be deeply missed.

Ciara McKeown

Ciara McKeown

Many municipal public art programs in North America are creating permanent public artworks in response to policy, funding structures, and a variety of other reasons. And yet, there is a recognizable shift towards durational works that focus on experience and process over object-based work. It also seems many of us are reaching capacity—more works entering into the collection and less funds to take care of them all; more time dealing with the vast unknown of conserving new media works; and  overloaded staff capacities to manage all parts of the process. Are we at the tipping point where change has to happen before we see implosion? I would argue that we are. I would argue that we need to develop the conversation in our field, nationally and internationally, to have municipal policies, funding, and programs that reflect the need and desire for both shorter and longer-term public art.

And, in tandem, we need to not shy away from why public artworks do not need to, and cannot always, last forever. Discussion is imperative—deaccession is not a bad word.

Temporary: Why it Matters and Why it Works

An excerpt I recently read from the publication Locating the Producers: An End to the Beginning, the Beginning of the End by Paul O’Neill & Claire Doherty [1], explored the established notion of place-based practice and stated that the book’s aim was to show, through research and case studies, “…that a fundamental shift in thinking about ‘time’ rather than simply the ‘space’ of public art commissioning is required to affect change at the level of policy.”[1] This may be the crux of where our conceptual thinking around public art can be refocused, adjusted, and rethought. Site response and notions of place are important, but we need to also break down words and terms. In my current public art world, we are hearing a lot about community engagement, but what does that mean? What are the real questions being asked; what is the desired outcome; and what are we asking the artist for and why? I think the desire for engagement is about experience and memory. It is about bringing together people and inciting conversation. In many of my favorite temporary projects, the strengths lie in the artist’s freedom to explore risk; unravel issues; and create a platform for meaningful public interaction, participation, and collaboration. Read the rest of this entry »

Patrick O'Herron

Patrick O’Herron

Banks, industrial manufacturers, energy and technology giants—these often become the “usual suspects” when arts organizations seek to build partnerships with businesses. But for some arts organizations, a major opportunity may lie the unlikeliest of industries—professional sports.

According to a recent Forbes article, professional sports, as a North American industry, generated a whopping $53.6 billion in 2012 and is expected to rise to $67.7 billion by 2017. This provides terrific potential for arts organizations to look within their own backyards at their local professional sports teams as possible strategic partners. In the spirit of the upcoming Super Bowl XLVIII, let’s examine this idea through the lens of the National Football League (NFL) and rival Super Bowl rival teams, the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos, who have each integrated the arts into the investments they are making within their respective communities.

The mission of the NFL Foundation is to support the health and safety of today’s youth and improvement of the communities in which its players and fans live. The arts play a key role. The Foundation recently announced a $1 million grant to the New York-New Jersey Super Bowl Host Committee’s Snowflake Youth Foundation, which funds charitable projects throughout New York and New Jersey, many of which provide visual art, dance and drama programs for youth. Additionally, for nearly 20 years, the NFL has supported the Youth Education Town (YET) program. Similar to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, YET Centers provide after-school activities for school-age children, many of which are heavily arts-focused. YET Centers are launched with a $1 million Super Bowl Legacy Grant from NFL Charities that is matched by the Super Bowl Host community. Read the rest of this entry »

Randy Cohen

Randy Cohen

BEA is a Big Deal

In December 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) added to the canon of research on the economic impact of the arts with the new Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account—a measure of arts and culture in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  Economic impact of the arts is not a new story.  What’s new is that an agency of BEA’s stature has undertaken the research.  The BEA is choosy about the satellite accounts it establishes and wouldn’t measure arts and culture unless it recognized the sector as important to the nation’s economic well-being and global competitiveness.

What did BEA find?  That arts and culture activity produce $504 billion dollars in goods and services annually in the U.S.—representing 3.25 percent of the nation’s economy—numbers larger than transportation ($448 billion) and agriculture ($174 billion), and only slightly behind construction ($530 billion).  The arts numbers were much larger than expected and turned enough heads at BEA headquarters to get the attention of U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, who provided a quote in the NEA’s release about the value of arts and culture (not an insignificant recognition). Read the rest of this entry »